Matthew McConaughey: Lessons for a successful life in post-Covid reality

The Matthew McConaughey advice-giving role that seems most made for CNBC is his turn in “The Wolf of Wall Street” as broker and salesman Mark Hanna, and his “Fugazi” speech to the Leonardo DiCaprio incarnation of real-life “Wolf” Jordan Belfort.

In the film, “Fugayzi, fugazi. It’s a whazy. It’s a woozie. It’s fairy dust,” is what passes for valuable guidance. But the actor has been known to offer some more down-to-earth advice in real life, whether it be through a university commencement speech or his recent memoir “Greenlights.”

McConaughey recently joined CNBC during its @Work Summit to discuss fundamental life lessons he has learned in the Covid year which he thinks will be important for our culture as more people head back into work and regular contact with others — with disagreements certain to remain part of post-pandemic life. We should all be ready to embrace greater understanding of opposing views, McConaughey says.

And sounding somewhere between his “Wolf” character and a human being trying to prepare for a post-pandemic world amid a booming stock market and expanding economy, he told CNBC from inside his Airstream trailer that it’s still OK in 2021 to chase success — if done the right way. “I’m for money and I’m for fame, but how we get those things, how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, fills the soul’s account along the way, and that’s long-term ROI that I think CEOs need to double-down on more.” 

Here are some of the ideas for a better life that McConaughey shared with CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla. (And for film buffs, watch the full video above if you want to know how that “Fugazi” speech came to be a piece of movie history.)

1. Don’t go back to who you were before Covid. 

As the world enters a post-pandemic reality, the actor and author says we should all be using 2020 to reevaluate what matters to us, rather than snapping back to who we were and what we believed before.  

“When we turn the page, and we get our freedoms to go engage again, that we don’t snap right back. That hopefully this last year when we were forced to reevaluate what the hell matters to us in our own lives, hopefully we will take those reevaluations out of this year and evolve as people, as individuals as well,” he told CNBC. 

That doesn’t mean immediate change, but it does mean reflection.

“Hey, the first day may not need to be okay everybody charge. No! We’re all coming out of our own independent world and reuniting again, so let’s sit down. Maybe that first week back maybe needs to be, let’s sit down and talk about what we’ve learned.”   

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey gives University Of Houston Commencement Address at TDECU Stadium on May 15, 2015 in Houston, Texas.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Now, more than ever, to come together in the middle is a radical dare. You want to be radical? Come to the middle, I dare you!

Taking the time to reflect on how you have changed for the better over the past year will not only help you individually, but help understand your place in this new world. 

“[2020] was there for a reason, it was hardship for a reason, there was sacrifice for a reason, there are things to learn for a reason. Let’s turn a page, not necessarily in the same chapter, let’s turn a page and start a new chapter,” he said.

2. Learn to accept those we may disagree with.  

The past year again was marked by more polarization, for example, over politics and vaccines, and the conflicts have led to division, but rarely growth. McConaughey says it does not need to be that way. 

“We can come away [from conflict] going I still disagree, but fundamentally, principally, you and I are attached. You and I can still be attached, even though we have opposing views, saying we have similar expectations of each other; civilly, civically. We are not doing that right now, we are illegitamizing people, and there’s no way that can be the way forward.” 

Learning to accept conflict as legitimate requires us learning to accept opposing views.

3. Find common ground through fact.  

Simply put, Americans need to learn to agree on facts.  

“We are delusional about what facts are. We are not even arguing from the same reality right now. So, if we can agree on facts, then I believe we can start building trust. Trust in facts can lead to trust in others, and then trust in ourselves.” 

McConaughey believes that due to distrust in media and leadership, we end up having trouble trusting ourselves. Learning to argue from the same set of facts will help. “If we can agree on facts, then I believe we can start building trust. Trust in facts can lead to trust in others, and then trust in ourselves.” 

4. Be a ‘meet-you-in-the-middle’ centrist. 

McConaughey issued a dare to the American people:

“We have a misnomer with what centricity is. We need to remember that unity is not uniformity. I’m a meet you in the middle centrist. That’s always has been perceived as ‘oh that’s the grey area of compromise, that means you’re not about anything.’ Now, more than ever, to come together in the middle is a radical dare. You want to be radical? Come to the middle, I dare you!” 

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